If you are visiting the Mexican Caribbean in 2012, explore the mysteries of Mayan culture and find out more about the ancient calendar, just one of the extraordinary accomplishments of this people. At a time when Europe was languishing in the Dark Ages, Mayan civilization flourished, becoming one of the most important in the Americas. The Golden Age from A.D. 200 – 900, was marked by breakthroughs in architecture, art, science, mathematics and astronomy.
Cities sprang up throughout the Maya World and immensely powerful rulers erected pyramids and temples in honor of the gods they claimed to represent. Many of their ceremonial centers have survived the ravages of time and nature and Thomas More Travel offers trips to the area’s most important archaeological sites. Here is a sampling of some of the most important sites in northern Quintana Roo and Yucatan so that you can start planning your Mayan journey for 2012. We will be showcasing additional archaeological sites in the next edition of this e-newsletter and on www.royalresortsnews.com during the year, stay posted.
Mexico’s most famous Mayan site and voted one of the World’s New Seven Wonders in a global poll conducted on the internet in 2007, Chichen Itza (“mouth of the well of the Itzae” in Maya) was a major power in ancient times, controlling the Yucatán politically, commercially and militarily.
Apart from the mighty Pyramid of Kukulcan or El Castillo, this UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts the largest ball court in Mesoamerica, an Observatory, and the Sacred Well, a huge cenote or sinkhole.
On the days of the spring and fall equinox in March and September respectively, a serpent of light and shadow formed by the rays of the setting sun appears to slither down along the north staircase of the Pyramid of Kukulcan, the image of an ancient god returning to his people.
Perched on a rock bluff overlooking the Caribbean, Tulum is one of the Maya World’s most spectacular sites and the most visited in Mexico in 2011.
“Tulum” means “wall” in Maya, a reference to the sturdy stone barrier that protects it on three sides, the fourth being the sea, but in ancient times the city was known as Zama or Dawn.
The jungle site of Coba is one of the Maya World’s largest archaeological sites and to date only a small area of the ancient city has been excavated. Towering above the jungle canopy, the Nohoch Mul Pyramid is the tallest pyramid in the northern Yucatán, 42 meters high. “Coba” means “waters ruffled by the wind” in Maya.
Located 20 minutes to the north of Valladolid, Ek Balam’s crowning glory is the façade of the Acropolis with its earth monster masks and the stucco figure of an ancient lord thought to be the first ruler of the city and founder of a powerful dynasty. “Ek Balam” means “black star jaguar” in Maya.
Uxmal is one of the Maya World’s treasures and a UNESCO World Heritage site. At the height of its glory, it reigned over a chain of nearby centers now known as the Puuc Route. The principal buildings at Uxmal are the Pyramid of the Magician, the Great Pyramid and the Nun’s Quadrangle and the Palace of the Governor, both with superb carved facades. “Uxmal” means “thrice built” in Maya.
Thirty minutes south of Uxmal, Kabah is the second largest site in the Puuc hills and was one of its vassals. It is famous for the Codz Poop, or the Palace of the Masks, a name that does justice to its magnificent façade consisting of 250 masks depicting Chaac, the Mayan rain god.
Seven kilometers south of Kabah is Sayil, which means “place of the ants” in Maya. The principal building on site is the three-tiered Palace, a long building containing 94 chambers, porticos, columns, Chaac masks and sculptures of the descending or diving god, also seen in Tulum.
The smallest of the Puuc Route sites, Xlapak is best known for the Palace, a tiny but richly carved building in a forest clearing.
Ten kilometers to the east of Sayil, Labna is famous for its huge arch, which was the gateway between the ceremonial plaza and a courtyard surrounded by palaces in ancient times. The arch has an open work roof comb and its finely carved façade features Chaac masks, Mayan huts, nobles and geometric motifs.
Located 30 miles south of Merida, Mayapan was the last capital of the Maya in the Yucatan. Founded around A.D. 1250 during the post-Classic period of Mayan civilization, it was abandoned in 1450. Several of Mayapan’s most important buildings show similarities to those at Chichen Itza, leading archaeologists to speculate that it was settled by Maya from Chichen, which was abandoned around 1250.